Catholic Charities of Central Colorado says only about a third of the 600 or 700 people who daily visit the downtown Marian House Soup Kitchen are homeless, and that ratio feels about right tonight. I'm standing in a line twisting around a cold, wet courtyard, waiting with about 40 other folks to enter the building and do our national duty: watch the Super Bowl.
Like many others these days, I'm a rabid fan with a guilty conscience. We look the other way while the protectionists at the National Football League lie about head trauma, and the league's players level the sad truth on themselves and their loved ones. We see battered brains and broken bones and wonder what it means for our fantasy team. And white billionaires profiting from the sweat of mostly black millionaires is a better version of the setup than we've seen in centuries past, but the dynamic is still wrong.
All that is to say that no matter how much we love the sport, it can't go on like this.
But today, the world's corporations are lining up to pay NBC $4.5 million for a 30-second commercial. One second is three times the value of an average American salary earned over the course of a year. The value of a minute-and-a-half of ad time donated to Catholic Charities would beat its 2013 budget by a million dollars, a nice boost considering the number of meals served has increased 40 percent in the last two years.
Against that backdrop, it was interesting to read a story in the Gazette over the weekend that quoted an activist saying the city's homeless population can seem "out of sight, out of mind." Before the game, I texted with Indy freelancer Corey Hutchins, a newcomer whom The Washington Post just called one of the best political reporters in the state. "This city has a more visible homeless population than I have seen anywhere since the '90s," he wrote. "Ask anyone who just moved here."
In the courtyard, there's rumors of pizza, though no one is sure what the food, served by Holy Apostles Catholic Church, will be. One twenty-something comes through the courtyard gates wearing a blanket and carrying a samurai sword, which he assures us is a prop. The man behind me wants to chat. In between calling out to recognized faces, he says he'd rather be at Old Chicago, but has no funds until his paycheck on Thursday.
He's soon joined by Donald, who wears a tan work coat and sagely compares the Broncos' Super Bowl loss of last year to their destruction at the hands of the 49ers in 1990. Both men have watched the game at this location before, and both respond to a question about the food quality like it's beside the point anyway.
We file past a man holding a clicker, as only 180 people can be inside at any one time; past a mandatory hand-washing area; and into a modest cafeteria where volunteers dish a chewy pork chop, slices of a watery German potato side, gooey cinnamon apples and a smashed white roll. Everything is overcooked, but the potatoes taste sour and delicious.
"I forgot to tell you guys," says one nearby young person to another. "I start work next week. Alorica."
The lights are down and we all face the wall, where a half-closed laptop streams the broadcast to a projector. The booming sounds of Nissan and Coca-Cola drown out any conversation, but the game is often buffering — skipping and tripping into the room.
That feels appropriate.
This is a Seahawks crowd, with not a lot of women and not a lot of couples. Though they're invisible to the advertisers in front of them, they, too, delight in America's ritual. Nobody takes off their hats, coats, reflective vests or snow suits. All cheer a Paul McCartney sighting, and "aww" at the "aww" commercials, and for four hours a community is born. The NFL hopes we forget about life outside the game — and so do we.
Before free socks are handed out during the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show with Katy Perry, an organizer takes to the mic to thank Holy Apostles for the event (which did later include Domino's pizza). A loud cheer goes up, larger than anything provoked by the game thus far.
"Thanks, hon," a woman shouts. "You made us feel at home."